PHOENIX (AP) — Even without Brandon Roy, the Portland Trail Blazers could be no pushover for Phoenix. No team in the NBA has been better at disrupting the free-flowing offense of the Suns.
In three games against the Blazers, two of them won by Portland, the Suns averaged 98 points, a dozen below Phoenix's league-best season average of 110.2.
"I think overall they're the best defensive team in the league," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. "If you look at the way they play and how they disrupt what you're trying to do offensively, they do a great job. They're real active, they play a real physical game. They almost put you in a situation where you've got to grind out the game."
The favored Suns say they are taking nothing for granted as they prepare for Sunday night's Game 1 of their first-round playoff series. After all, Portland was without Roy — and his 21.5 points per game — when the Blazers won in Phoenix 108-101 on Feb. 10.
Roy underwent surgery on Friday to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. He has been ruled out for this series but might be back if Portland advances to the second round.
Suns players tend to dismiss the two losses to Portland as occurring before the team hit its stride. Phoenix won the last matchup 93-87 at home on March 21, part of the Suns' 14-2 run to end the regular season.
This is not, Steve Nash points out, the high-flying Phoenix team of the Mike D'Antoni era. The Suns still can score in a hurry, but this team is better equipped when the pace slows down, as it usually does in the playoffs.
"We're not the same team we used to be," Nash said after practice on Saturday. "We used to be an explosive offensive team in the open floor and we relied on that. We relied on 3-point shots in transition. Now we can win in different ways. We're deeper, we have better size, we're better defensively. Adding some of those elements to our team has given us an opportunity to win ball games in different ways."
Phoenix lost some of that size when 7-foot center Robin Lopez went down with a back injury. He has started light workouts but will not play in the series.
The Suns, winners of eight straight at home, rely on a rhythm and tempo that the Blazers will try to disrupt by clogging the middle to stop Amare Stoudemire's powerful inside presence.
"They're whole philosophy is if you can beat us shooting jump shots, then have at it," Gentry said.
Probably no one in the league is better at making jump shots than the Suns, particularly from long range. Phoenix was the runaway league leader in 3-point shooting, making 41.2 percent of its attempts.
"We're going to have to make shots," Gentry said. "If we make shots, we'll be fine."
The player who made the most 3s for Phoenix is Channing Frye with 172. He had made 20 in his first four years in the NBA and spent the past two years on the Portland bench.
While talking to reporters, the 6-foot-11 Frye picked up a ball that rolled his way and calmly sank one from about two feet beyond the out of bounds line.
"I just knew I wanted to be an elite shooter," he said, "and I knew I could do that with just work and the opportunity and the effort and the system. Here I came and here I am now."
It's well documented that the Blazers have had plenty of practice at regrouping following the loss of important players. Center Greg Oden went down with a fractured left patella in early December and center Joel Przybilla re-ruptured a right patella tendon in early March. Roy missed 17 games with various ailments.
The fact that Portland still won 50 games makes Nate McMillan the NBA coach of the year, as far as Gentry is concerned.
"They're a really tough-minded group," Gentry said. "I think they just reflect what Nate was when he played."
Depth has allowed the Trail Blazers to survive.
"We've had some guys that are capable step in and play and win games and put us in the position that we're in now with all the injuries we've had," McMillan said, "and we'll have to do it again."
Rudy Fernandez will start in place of Roy. Phoenix will focus much of its defense on versatile, 6-foor-11 LaMarcus Aldridge, the team's second-leading scorer at 17.9 points per game. But Aldridge believes it will be others who provide the added offense needed in Roy's absence.
"I don't think people realize that when Brandon was out, I wasn't really shooting that much more," he said. "It's just guys taking advantage of the opportunity, Rudy (Fernandez) and (Jerryd) Bayless. I think those guys will get more shots."
Portland got another scare when Marcus Camby twisted an ankle in practice on Friday. McMillan said Camby "should be OK" for Sunday's game.
Does the Blazers coach ever just shake his head and wonder when will this end?
"No, we're kind of numb to this now," he said. "So many things have happened to us and we've had to play through this all season long, so we'll be ready to play tomorrow."